Coates joins the me-generation chorus

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The New England Patriots were busy during their bye week.

They were working not on their game plans, but on damage control.

That's because Ben Coates became an early contender for the Ryan Leaf Most Selfish Player of the Week Award with a tirade after the Arizona game the previous Sunday.

As it turned out, Leaf won his own award with a tirade directed at general manager Bobby Beathard that resulted in a suspension, but Coates was an early contender.

Coates was unhappy even though the team wrapped up the first half with a 6-2 record after beating Arizona, 27-3.

Winning is incidental to many of today's athletes. The important thing is putting up big numbers and getting a bigger contract.

Coates was unhappy that he caught only six passes in the past five games.

Complaining that the tight end is no longer part of the offense, he barked: "There's nothing I can do about it except to try to get the hell out of here. I'm not going to be a decoy and run around and allow everyone else to get open. All I do is block. They can get anybody to block. If this is the way they want it, what's there to say? Just release me. Be my guest. Do whatever you want to do."

He said he was going home to North Carolina for a three-day break and, "Maybe I won't come back."

Surprise, three days later, he was back.

"Come on, I got about 900,000 reasons to come back," he said in a reference to his salary for the rest of the year.

He met with coach Pete Carroll, and they both made nice.

"I just got frustrated," he said.

Carroll said, "He loves this team, he wants this team to win and he doesn't want to do anything to hurt it."

But there's still a rift between Coates and the coach. Coates wasn't thrilled when Carroll said after his outburst that he couldn't mold the offense to "some guy."

"I'm not some guy," he said after his return. He's a five-time Pro Bowl player.

Carroll is not particularly popular among the players, anyway. The veterans, rightly or wrongly, feel he's run off some players like Willie Clay.

Coates also was upset about all the criticism he got about the outburst in the media and among the fans.

"Don't all these people criticizing me complain at their work? That's an everyday thing. It don't mean you want the company to go broke or not be successful," he said.

In New England, controversy comes with the territory. The Patriots went to the Super Bowl in 1985 and the drug scandal broke. They did it again in 1996 and Bill Parcells left.

If Coates can help the team get to the Super Bowl, he can have a bigger audience for his complaints. Maybe that'll be an incentive for him to be a team guy.

What might have been

It's been well chronicled how the Colts let John Elway get away.

The fact they also passed up two chances to get Walter Payton, who died last week of bile duct cancer, hasn't gotten as much notice.

They had the first pick in the 1975 draft, and the general manager, Joe Thomas, turned it into two offensive linemen, George Kunz and Ken Huff.

He first traded the top pick to Atlanta for Kunz and the third pick. Atlanta took quarterback Steve Bartkowski with the top pick. Thomas didn't want Bartkowski because he had Bert Jones.

Dallas picked second and had the choice between two future Hall of Famers -- Randy White of Maryland and Payton. The Cowboys took White.

That meant Thomas could have gotten Payton and Kunz. It would have been a coup.

But he had Lydell Mitchell on the team and took Huff. He violated the first rule in the draft book -- don't draft by position. Take the best player on the board. Especially high in the draft.

"That was my graduate degree in the draft," said Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, who was then with the Colts.

Playing hurt

It's easy to understand why Steve Young isn't listening to all the people who want him to retire because he's had a few concussions.

After all, players risk injury all the time. Football uniforms should probably have a patch reading "Unsafe at any speed."

Look at Young's San Francisco 49ers teammate, Greg Clark. He fractured five ribs in an August exhibition game and missed the first three games of the season.

In Minnesota on Oct. 24, he had a pain-killing injection to block the pain in his ribs so he could play with a fiberglass pad covering the sore ribs.

If the NFL banned pain-killing injections and let only healthy players play, they might not have enough players.

Clark played virtually the whole game and caught three passes for 27 yards, although he complained of shortness of breath.

He was taken to the locker room on a cart after the game, and X-rays revealed he had a collapsed lung. He spent four days in a hospital and two more days in a hotel in Minneapolis to give the lung time to inflate before flying home.

The doctors aren't sure if the injection punctured the lung tissue or whether the ribs did it. It can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.

"You sometimes get so used to playing with pain, sometimes you don't know when to draw the line. You build up a pain tolerance," Clark said.

Meanwhile, Young is busy tutoring Jeff Garcia this week on dealing with the Pittsburgh defense.

"It's one of those rare defenses that can actually beat you just on the scheme. They're talented, and they have a scheme that is totally confusing," he said.

Young doesn't want to be a tutor, though. He wants to play. Nobody will be surprised if he does again.

Tradition

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue probably didn't mean to, but he stripped the Indianapolis Colts of their Baltimore tradition last week.

He said he didn't like the proposed Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Houston and Tennessee division in realignment because none of the teams has any tradition.

"Yes, Jacksonville's successful, but we don't want all new teams in one division. The oldest one there are the Colts, and they moved to Indianapolis in 1984," he said.

If you count their Baltimore heritage, the Colts have all kinds of tradition. ESPN Classic seems to run something on the old Colts virtually every week.

But since Tagliabue isn't counting that, maybe the Colts should give the nickname back to Baltimore. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

If Tagliabue wants realignment, he's going to have to accept the Division With No Tradition. We can call it the AFC DWNT.

That's because the old AFL teams -- the Bills, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Patriots in the East and the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos in the West -- have taken a virtual blood oath to stick together. And Pittsburgh and Cleveland have to stick together, so there's not much room to maneuver.

It does seem kind of fitting that the team that won't give Baltimore back its tradition is likely to be stuck in a division with no tradition.

Quotable

"Why does there have to be blame? -- Cincinnati coach Bruce Coslet, who's getting the blame for the team's 2-17 record in its past 19 regular season games.

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